The Working Waterfront

Little island leaps lead to bigger steps


Dan Debord
Posted 2020-09-17
Last Modified 2020-10-04

From wharf to boat, boat to wharf, rinse, recycle, and repeat. Each island trip requires this momentary leap of faith. Trusting in that short span of wood, metal, or (occasionally) air serving as conduit between wharf and boat, trusting in the boat captain to get you where you’re going safely, and trusting in yourself that you’ll know what to do once you’re there.

Almost two years ago, I took my first little island leap when I packed up my truck in my home state of Virginia, drove up the coast to Port Clyde, and hopped on the early morning ferry to Monhegan.

On that day, I was a couple months away from college graduation, a couple days out from the passing of a dear friend, and feeling entirely uncertain about the world and my role in it. I wasn’t necessarily expecting an experience that would clarify all life’s questions when I moved here to be Monhegan’s Island Fellow, but at the very least I was hoping for an interesting, fulfilling job in a beautiful place for two years.

Since then, I think I’ve learned more about myself and the world around me than I did in my previous 22 years combined.

I now know more about community broadband, municipal operations, and grant writing than most people would ever care to. I’ve learned how to bake some tasty treats, read voraciously, and otherwise self-entertain when the island population hits its lowest point in mid-winter. I’ve learned that it’s the quality, not quantity, of relationships that’ll sustain you.

And most importantly, I’ve learned that there’s a lot that I still can, want, and need to learn in pursuit of becoming the person I hope to be with the positive impact on the world I hope to have.

As my Monhegan fellowship comes to a close, I’m preparing to take another little island leap, moving a bit further Downeast to live year-round on Frenchboro—my introduction to islands and the coast of Maine. Although I spent many happy weeks of my childhood with family on Frenchboro, as I quickly learned on Monhegan, two weeks in the summer is only a small part of the full picture of island life. In some ways, I’m starting with plenty of background experience. In many ways, I’m starting from scratch. A perfect position from which to grow.

So, despite taking this leap at yet another uncertain time—this one global and not just personal—I’m excited for it. Not many people are lucky enough to live on an island in their lifetime, much less two islands in three years.

I’m leaving behind a stable fellowship position and many people and places on Monhegan that I’ve come to love over the past couple of years. But I’m looking forward to more time working with the seasons instead of spending each workday in front of a computer.

I’m excited to live in proximity to family, excited for the opportunity to make new friends, excited to finally plant my own garden, and excited to live in the same house year-round. I hope that I will continue to take these little leaps, as needed, in search of the best life has to offer and the best of myself I have to offer in return. If you’re reading this, I hope you continue to take your own little leaps as well.

Dan Debord has been a Louis W. Cabot Fellow working with the Monhegan community to bring high-speed broadband access to the island. Originally from Virginia, he has spent summers on Frenchboro. He graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in economics and history and a minor in religious studies.